The issue concerns whether employees used private apps for work-related matters to bypass records management policies.
News reports since President Trump’s inauguration have portrayed disgruntled Environmental Protection Agency employees as using encrypted messaging tools to react to Trump’s plans to cut and refocus the agency.
On Wednesday, the conservative legal transparency group Cause of Action Institute filed suit against the agency in U.S. district court protesting EPA’s “failure” to respond to an earlier Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the alleged employee use of apps such as Signal to criticize Trump policies.
“The EPA has withheld records to which CoA Institute has a right and that serve the public interest in transparent and accountable government,” said the complaint, based on reports that an estimated dozen employees were using the private app to conduct work-related conversations to get around records management policies.
“Career employees at the EPA appear to be using Signal to avoid transparency laws and vital oversight by the executive branch, Congress, and the public,” said Cause of Action Institute Assistant Vice President Henry Kerner. “Taxpayers have a right to know if the EPA’s leadership is meeting its record preservation obligations.”
Cause of Action argues that material sent on encrypted apps still qualify as federal records.
Last month, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee asked the EPA inspector general—whose previous report found no serious problems with employee use of encrypted devices—to look into the recent news reports. That IG report, however, did recommend that management monitor the situation. “EPA’s mobile device management processes do not prevent employees from changing the device configuration settings for retaining text messages on all government-issued mobile devices,” it said.
EPA declined to comment.
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